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Friday, 07 December 2012 13:05

Chinmoy Guha : “The history of man is a history of pain, injustice, wars, and heroic battles…"

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Many cultures are regressing while the dominance of others is increasing. Some languages are dying out while others are exerting a real hegemony.
It is therefore important to save the diversity of cultures and languages from monoculturalism which destroys them through the institutional recognition of only one language, one culture, one religion... On the other hand, the preservation of cultures and languages at all cost often leads to a segmentation of cultures and individuals. We must therefore find ways of going beyond multiculturalism which limits the individual to a particular group and the person to a given category.

This is precisely the aim of interculturality, a new approach to looking at things and act. Quoting Issa Asgarally in his ‘L’interculturel ou la guerre(2005)’:  “ It is a new way to conceive identity, to transcend multiculturalism, to promote real exchange between cultures, to rethink and reformulate historical experiences, to refuse the theory of the “clash of civilisations”, to defuse the “war of languages”, to analyse the relationship between culture, information and communication, to construct bridges across the literatures of the world, to train and develop the critical mind through philosophy, to explore the cultural dimension of religion, and, finally, to introduce this new approach at school.”

The damages of monoculturalism and multiculturalism, whose historical toll is heavy with deaths, destruction and human suffering, compel us to think about and live interculturality today, for sustainable peace.

In this context, the ‘Fondation pour l’Interculturel et la Paix (FIP)’ with the Mahatma Gandhi Institute, organised an international conference this week on: ‘Cultural Diversity and Interculturality: What Foundation for Sustainable Peace?’ at the MGI, Moka from 3 to 5 December 2012 with the participation of world thinkers, journalists, authors and scholars, as well as peace activists like J.M.G. Le Clézio, Nobel Prize for Literature 2008, Issa Asgarally, Gilles Verbunt, Isabelle Roussel-Gillet (France), Karen Lopez-Hutin (Ethnologist, Colombia), Chinmoy Guha (Université of Calcutta, India), Keith Moser (Université of Mississippi, USA) , Céline Ramsamy-Giancone (ODI-Réunion) among others.

Chinmoy Guha, Former Vice-Chancellor, Rabindra-Bharati University, Kolkata, is also an author, translator and Professor of English, University of Calcutta.

News on Sunday has chosen Guha of India, the land of ‘Ahimsa,’ to analyse for our readers on the painstaking ‘Quest for Peace and Light in Troubled Times.’

Does peace essentially mean the absence of war?
Basically, yes! Since time immemorial, War has rattled our nerves, and shaken our roots. But here war does not only mean physical wars between nations, or terrorism caused by religious fundamentalists. Peace and harmony can never come without eliminating narrow, selfish, racist, sectarian socio-political views, one-upism of certain nations who still believe they are the rulers. Beneath the veneer of globalisation, the class division of nations exists like gangrene. Much of the socio-economic crises seem to have emanated from this.

What is the meaning of living in ‘Troubled Times’… Has there been in the history of Mankind a ‘Time when there was no Trouble?’
A large part of the world map is occupied by the poorer countries, where social injustices are caused by uneven planning, lack of vision and love…Peace is inextricably related with all this. That is why I shall speak on the outstanding transcultural quest of Romain Rolland, Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi for a discourse of peace and harmony… And there were many others…Albert Schweitzer for example. They stood up and questioned the whole idea of the frontier and disrupted the notion of human existence as a narcissistic narrative of monoculturalism and hegemony.

It was not a fake, cosmetic discourse that they were trying to construct…it was a genuine quest. There are tears, like the rarest of pearls, strewn all over their dialogue. Memories of those cross-cultural encounters can serve as a remedy for evil in these selfish times. Only dialogues can help us to inch towards peace…Platitudes can’t.

Does ‘Troubled Times’ mean essentially the state of war between nations? What   about Europe’s monetary and financial crisis? What about climate change and food and water scarcity for developing nations?
I have just said that all this is part of the crisis. But your question once again shows that the problem of peace is far more complex than we had thought! Unfortunately, the governments have not been sincere in their work…

The Quest for peace is a millennium process, started since the dawn of times. Why is it ongoing? What are the obstacles and why these have not been removed since such a long time?
Of course, it is a millennium process…The history of man is a history of pain, injustice, wars, and heroic battles against these things. The noble battle continues. To quote Romain Rolland, “We are like the bowmen of the Gita. It is not for ourselves that we are fighting.

It is for the happiness and liberty of the generations to come.” (May 1937). To quote Rolland again, “It does not surprise me at all that Tagore has to work so hard in his own country. Everything is (and is meant to be) in a nascent state. We sketch the outline of the Great Work. Other men in other spaces will no doubt follow up and complete it.” The ‘Fondation pour l’Interculturel et la Paix’ in this beautiful island of Mauritius is an integral part of that heroic battle for peace and harmony. I warmly salute the Foundation and Mahatma Gandhi Institute for organizing this colloquium.

How can mankind renew its quest for peace and light in troubled times when human beings don’t have peace and light in their inner self?
By drawing the line somewhere…By looking at oneself in the mirror. By reassessing oneself. By realising that greed and self-love do not help anyone.

India and China, once reputed to foster the education of man through the quest for inner peace, are themselves in the grip of torment these days. Is it because they have lost the essence of their ancestral learning - search for the inner peace first before looking for material gains?
I think India has lost itself in the maze of globalisation. On the one hand, the rich has become a hundred times richer, the middle class is more affluent than ever before and the mortality rate has risen; and on the other, about one out of four Indians live below the poverty line.

So the torment of a cracked society continues.  We are struggling to cope with the flux, and the education sector is the worst to suffer: the conflict between local and global cultures has become more poignant than ever, the educational policy-makers, the teachers and the students don’t seem to know whether to imitate the West, or look for our roots. So we are stuck. How can there be inner peace when one is ‘assis entre deux chaises?’ Sorry to present a bleak picture, but as a conscientious professor and writer who struggles hard to strike the right balance, I have to admit that we are going through probably the worst identity crisis in our country. I guess the situation is even worse in China.

In countries where there are multitudes of religious practices and diversity of cultures, peace is often at stake. Have religion and culture played their part in the construction of peace or have they been negative in their approach towards preaching peace and harmony and unity in diversity?
A very, very thoughtful question. Religion has not played a positive role at all, and this is most unfortunate. There is a difference between Dharma and religion. Belief in God and religious practices are not the same thing, and global terrorism and many of the social crises across the planet have been fomented by hopelessly narrow and prejudiced politico-religious dogmas. The Hindu fundamentalists in India have played an extremely negative, even destructive role in the last two decades. And the intelligentsia has failed to influence the masses—because of the diversity and unevenness of India. But I am optimistic—ours is a great country, the secular fabric is still strong, and we hope to overcome the crises.

What is your message for a country like Mauritius where my friend Issa Asgarally says ‘It is either Interculturality or War?’
I think Issa Asgarally is absolutely right. It is my experience too. It is either Interculturality or War. And this is something that most people in the planet still fail to realise. Unlike many other countries in the world, Mauritius has harmonised the East and the West. Your country is like an exquisite crystal. Mauritius for me symbolises the peace and light we are all looking for.
Indradev Curpen

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